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Palaces of Dreams

Palaces Of Dreams

While nearly all the recent buzz has been about next summer's Commonwealth Games,
visitors to Glasgow shouldn't overlook the city's unrivaled West End museums.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

On October 25, 1902, Samuel Chisholm, Lord Provost (Lord Mayor) of Glasgow, stood amid a soaring Spanish Baroque edifice of red Locharbriggs sandstone and declared the newly built Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum open, describing it as a palace of dreams.

Hailing the ethos behind the museum, which had been built on the strength of £46,000 raised through the 1888 International Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park, then doubled through public subscription, Chisholm added that the Corporation at least were satisfied that art was in itself a refining and improving and ennobling thing.

Enter the museum more than a century on and you see that declaration of intent fulfilled with a vengeance. If it's a weekend, half the children of Glasgow appear to be swarming under the opulent ceiling vault of the Central Hall, illuminated impressively with its Byzantine-looking lamp clusters and soaring the full height of the building. Parents stand back, momentarily unencumbered and smiling, while the museum's mighty organ thunders in a time-honoured daily recital. It is the kind of anthemic vision of utopian civic culture that might have gladdened the heart of H. G. Wells.

Glasgow becomes an international sporting rendezvous this coming summer as it hosts the Commonwealth Games, but Scotland's largest city is also a flourishing cultural centre, not least in terms of museums and galleries, for which it is among the best provided of any British city. Its two greatest treasure houses are situated within ten minutes' walk of each other in the city's bohemian West End. One of them is the "palace" of Kelvingrove; the other is a hidden gem, the Hunterian Museum, tucked within the Gothic splendour of nearby Glasgow University.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2013 issue of Scottish Life.

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